Senate Republican leaders are pressing ahead with plans for a floor vote on CIA Director Mike Pompeo’s nomination as secretary of state as soon as next week, despite the prospect of his getting an unfavorable recommendation in committee.
After a confirmation hearing marked by contentious exchanges with Democrats on the Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) — one of 15 members of the minority who backed Pompeo to lead the CIA — became the fifth Democrat on the panel to announce he would vote no. Coupled with opposition from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), unified resistance to Pompeo from the committee’s 10 Democrats would deal him an unfavorable recommendation, but top Republicans are still vowing to ensure his confirmation.
“He’s got the votes once he gets to the floor,” Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 3 GOP leader, told reporters. “So I think it’s just a question of, you know, them having to report him out.”
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the panel’s chairman, told reporters that he anticipated a committee vote on Pompeo early next week, setting the stage for a potential vote in the full Senate before a scheduled recess begins on April 27. He declined to predict where the votes in his committee currently stood, quipping that “conjecture is bad for your health.”
Among the still-undeclared Democratic votes on the committee, Sens. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Chris Coons of Delaware both said Monday night that they remained undecided on Pompeo. Shaheen was among the 15 Democratic Caucus members who backed Pompeo’s nomination as CIA director last year.
Also yet to take a firm stance is Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), a committee member who has said he is still awaiting answers to written questions for Pompeo.
There is no recent precedent for a nominee who receives an unfavorable vote in committee getting confirmed by the full Senate. John Tower, who was nominated as defense secretary by President Ronald Reagan, failed to clear the full Senate in 1989, and John Bolton — President Donald Trump’s current national security adviser — also got rejected by the full Senate after his nomination as ambassador to the United Nations was dispatched from the committee with no recommendation in 2005. (He later served in that role as a recess appointee of President George W. Bush.)
Despite the rarity of Pompeo’s potential predicament, Senate GOP leaders are moving ahead.
“It’s important that he get a vote on the floor of the Senate, and I think it’s important he’ll be confirmed,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), another member of the leadership under Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), told reporters. “The chairman will have to decide what he wants to do there.”
Getting Pompeo to the full Senate may prove to be the hardest part of his confirmation, given that multiple red-state Democrats up for reelection in November are already facing a GOP pressure campaign to support him. One of those targeted Democrats, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), said Monday night that he was also undecided.
Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said that Pompeo’s bid was "at an early stage of being considered in our caucus.”
“I can’t tell you how he’ll fare,” Durbin said. “We haven’t whipped it.”